Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shopping, Ecology, and the Economic Crisis: A Paradox

Two recent posts from my friends over on Opera have stirred up mixed emotions and thoughts. This World War II-era poster (posted by Wicked Lizard) captures my feelings exactly. In fact, I've even been working on a new weekly feature about buying less and clearing out clutter. Certainly, the "reduce" part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" equation is better for the planet. And I'm ashamed when I read in this article that "the average American consumes about fifty-three times more goods and services than someone from China." Alas, the entire Western world, and China itself, are quickly catching up.

But my friend Richard points out that when consumers stop buying products, the people who make, package, ship, and sell those products suffer. Factories turn off their machines, businesses close, jobs are lost, people go hungry. In his post he shares an email he received from a record company practically begging people to buy CDs to keep the economy rolling. Buy a CD, they plead, and keep us in business.

They have a point: According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, consumer spending has dropped to levels not seen since 1942, (the era of that white elephant poster.) "When necessity or worry causes most consumers to save money at the same time, it causes a problem known among economists as the 'paradox of thrift.' Consumers are acting rationally to safeguard their financial health in a recession, but their collective action may hurt everyone by shrinking the economy even more."

So what's a responsible world citizen to do? Please share your thoughts. How are you responding to the paradoxical crises affecting our world?


  1. We are all different in our resources. I think that poster is somewhat correct, if we don't need it--don't buy it. I would rather see someone driving a lower quality car and going out to dinner. If we continue to spend money in our local economy, we will be able to survice this tough time! In a few years, things will be better and we will have more freedom!

  2. Love the post. I myself like finding new uses for old stuff, I'm a fan of vintage and retro, restoring and "doing it yourself"..
    Poster is correct but the problem is that we all buy stuff under the "we might need it sometimes" excuse.

  3. I agree Nick about shopping local. I try to buy from family-owned businesses when I can.

    Alpha, I love vintage/retro too, and DIY (but I'm not too handy.)

  4. Frankie, another blogger had the same thought as yours:


  5. Thanks Sujatha. I visited her blog. Everyone's in a quandry in these perilous times. But we will all muddle through!

  6. Frankie,
    Thanks for your comment on my blog.
    I completely agree with the phrase 'reduce,reuse,recycle'. Wow, i love it! You know Frankie, Americans are contributing for 25% of the green house gases, which is so big a number compared to their population. The so called "bare necessities" consumed by American population is a luxury for the rest of the world's population.
    America's uptrend in economic success was due to the consumer spending which in turn created jobs and made their GDP strong. It was a good thing in 80's and 90s but not so anymore. First of all, we need to think about "going green" and cutting back on the green house gas production. And secondly, you have to stop "living in the moment", in the sense, Americans want all materialistic luxuries and want it right away with credit card debt and such. Not good in the long run. Spend what you can afford to and save the rest for the rainy days.
    My two cents :)

  7. Muddling through is right. The stock market is now performing just about as badly as it did during the Great Depression, expect a massive number for tomorrow's unemployed, and 1 in 5 mortgages is underwater.

    I think I will buy a new CD! It would be a good time to pick up a Carter Family collection ("No Depression In Heaven"), but I have those songs already. I'll think of something.

  8. I agree Lak. We are an "instant gratification" society. When did shopping become a sport anyway? I guess the key is to buy responsibly--buy the CD from a small business, the produce from a local farm. Richard--go for it!

  9. Frankie- just off the topic, i love your blog! You seem so grounded and down to earth. I can relate to you totally.
    I had this misconception that most American women don't have their heads on their shoulders. You proved me wrong and, again reminded me that judging by looks alone could be deceiving. And that there are women with true essence no matter which part of the world they come from.

  10. Thank you Lak. I don't feel at all like a person with a good head on my shoulders. Well, maybe an ok head, but essence, I'm not so sure. I've promised myself I will be as honest on this blog as I can be. Keep reading, and you'll find that for much of my life, my character was nothing to be proud of. Like a lot of Americans of my generation, I grew up fast in some ways, but not those that lead to responsible behavior. Anyway, more about all that in future posts!